Communication, Jose Fernandez, Retaliation

How to Deal With Meathead Pitchers 101, or: Retaliation Without Communication Builds Aggravation

fernandez-fumes

The headlines for yesterday’s action concern the clearing of the benches and the placement of fastballs near hitters’ heads. The intrigue, however, lies in the ability of a player or team to communicate, and what an effective approach in that regard might bring.

First, though, some details.

On its own, the eye-level inside fastball thrown by Atlanta’s Julio Teheran to Jose Fernandez in the fifth inning Wednesday was not enough to draw anger. Fernandez shrugged it off, literally, as he flashed a these-things-happen expression toward the mound.

But maybe Teheran meant to do it. Back in July, a three-game Braves-Marlins series saw eight HBPs, four by each team. (Oddly, two players absorbed seven of those plunkings—Miami left fielder Derek Dietrich was hit four times, Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers three.)

Three of the HBPs Miami doled out came in the final game. Did that mean something?

Maybe that’s why Teheran drilled Martin Prado an inning later. (Or maybe he was just terrible. Prado was one of five batters Teheran faced in the sixth, four of whom scored before the pitcher was pulled.)

Still, if Atlanta was so hell-bent on response, wouldn’t the opening game of the current series, which took place on Monday, been a better place for it—especially when the Braves found themselves with a 7-0 lead in the third inning?

So if Teheran was looking for trouble, and if he failed to connect with Fernandez, and if he intended to hit Prado … well, it would be tough to fault the Marlins for taking issue. Which they did.

The bottom of the sixth presented Fernandez a perfect opportunity—bases empty with two outs—to respond. The guy at the plate, Nick Markakis, had already homered and flied out deep to right field. Somehow, after Teheran’s head-shot in the fifth and plunking of Prado in the sixth, warnings had not yet been issued.

Fernandez plunked Markakis in the backside. Agree or disagree with this as baseball methodology, things should have ended there. Somebody had been drilled from each team. It was time to move on.

But then—with plate ump Marvin Hudson still having failed to issue warnings—reliever Jose Ramirez became the second Atlanta pitcher of the day to throw at Fernandez’s head. It was a clear warning shot, sailing well behind the pitcher, but traveled 95 mph at eye level. (Watch it all here.)

A livid Fernandez took steps toward the mound and benches emptied, but no punches were thrown.

After the game, Fernandez did not hold back.

“Like everybody knows, I’m not known for hitting people,” he said in a Miami Herald report. “If you think it’s on purpose, and you want to hit me, go ahead. Hit me. I don’t mind getting hit. That’s part of the game. But you don’t throw at somebody’s head because I have a family.”

Not knowing whether July’s HBP-fest factored into any of this, and in advance of the team’s four-game series later this month, the question remains: Are things now settled? To that end, Fernandez must be given abundant credit: At the tail end of the dustup, before players returned to their dugouts, he tracked down Markakis and made sure they were square.

“I told him ‘Hey, man. I throw you one of the best breaking balls that I have, and you hit it out,’ ” he recounted after the game in an MLB.com report. “ ‘I threw you another one and you hit the [stuffing] out of it. That second at-bat, I threw some good fastballs in, he was late on it. Jam. Jam. I was hoping, 2-0, throw a fastball in, he hits a popup to second base. Obviously, that was not the case. The ball slipped out of my hands, and I hit him.”

By every indication, Markakis accepted this explanation.

Fernandez has done this kind of thing before, to great effect. Then, however, he had clearly been in the wrong during the leadup. Now he himself was aggrieved, and nonetheless took steps to right the ship.

Baseball’s unwritten rules have abundant critics, many of whom offer sensible critiques. If more players handled their business like Fernandez, however, all the what-ifs enumerated above—every possible cause for motivation that leads players and public alike to wonder whether a given inside pitch was intended to be there—would be mitigated. Plays would be plays, not displays, and everybody could spend more time focusing on the game rather than on perceived anger and the ensuing response.

As it turns out, effective communication works. Nice job, Jose Fernandez.

Update 9-19: Ramirez suspended three games.

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Don't Showboat, Jose Fernandez

Fernandez Ends Splendid Season with Awful Day, Ends Awful Day With Splendid Response

Fernandez homersIt’s been a long time since we’ve seen a player melt down so thoroughly in so short a time, but Jose Fernandez put on a show on Wednesday.

But for every instance that inspired reminders of the 21-year-old’s immaturity, he managed to recover as well as any player could hope to following a display such as his.

A small accounting:

  • Top of the fifth inning: Justin Upton blasts a ball to center field, which is tracked down by Justin Ruggiano. From the mound, Fernandez is all smiles.
  • Top of the sixth: Atlanta’s Evan Gattis responds after hitting a 96-mph fastball into the left field bleachers by admiring it for a moment while briefly staring down the pitcher. Fernandez notices. (Watch it here.)
  • Two hitters later, Chris Johnson and Fernandez exchange words after Johnson flies out to center field.
  • Bottom of the sixth: Fernandez blasts a nearly 400-foot drive off Braves left-hander Mike Minor for his first career homer, flips his bat away and—ostensibly in response to Gattis—stands to admire it. This is not an innocent would-be slugger in awe of his own unexpected power; the move is intended to disrespect the Braves, who take it precisely that way.
  • Fernandez begins an exceedingly slow trip around the bases—28.58 seconds, according to Tater Trot Tracker. (It would likely be among the five slowest in baseball this year if David Ortiz had taken up a profession other than baseball.) Minor stared him down much of the way.
  • As he rounds third—Johnson’s position—Fernandez spits toward the base.
  • When Fernandez crosses the plate, Braves catcher Brian McCann informs him of the ways in which he has behaved badly. “You’re a kid and you’re in the big leagues and you need to do what big leaguers do,” Fernandez recalled him saying in an MLB.com report. The players go nearly nose to nose.
  • Johnson sprints in from third (making you-talk-too-much motions with his hand), and the benches and bullpens empty.
  • In the aftermath, Fernandez paces the dugout, smiling. (Watch it all here.)

It’s easy to quibble about overreaction and the unnecessary sensitivity of ballplayers, but there’s no mistaking the fact that messages of disrespect were delivered from both parties, and received as intended—none louder than Fernandez’s. That it came from a rookie only served to amplify things.

At this point, of course, Fernandez must be given credit for attempting to pacify the situation almost as soon as it came to a head, telling McCann during their confrontation that, “I’m sorry, the game got the best of me,” he recalled after the game in an MLB.com report.

“[McCann] was talking to me as a friend, or a dad, teaching a kid,” he said. “That’s how I felt.”

Fernandez later said that he was embarrassed by his actions, saying “it’s something that can’t happen. It’s not good for baseball.”

The incident also illustrated the importance of quality leadership, particularly on the part of Marlins manager Mike Redmond.  “Tonight showed some immaturity on Jose’s part …” he said. “He got caught up in the emotions, but I’m not happy. It really ruined the night for me. I know that will never happen again. … We respect the game.”

Redmond took things a step further, making sure that Fernandez’s actions did not carry over. A meeting was set up in a hallway underneath Marlins Park, where Fernandez apologized personally to McCann and Minor.

This is unusual in baseball circles, but hardly precedent-setting. In 2006, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire led Torii Hunter across the ballpark to apologize to Red Sox brass for swinging hard at a 3-0 pitch while the Twins held an 8-1, eighth-inning lead.

Unlike the Fernandez situation, there was no disrespect intended on Hunter’s part. Precisely like the Fernandez situation, it did not matter—perception is everything. From The Baseball Codes:

After the game, Gardenhire took the outfielder to the visitors’ club­house to speak to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, trying to wipe away the potential for hard feelings. To abide by the unwritten rule that bars opposing players from the locker room, the meeting took place in a rear laundry room in the bowels of the Metrodome. There Hunter informed both managers that he had swung out of inattention, not disrespect.

“We wanted to make sure [Francona] understood,” said Gardenhire. “I went there to let him know that I know the game too. It’s a manager’s responsibility when a player swings 3-0 to make sure the player under­stands that. I wanted him to know we didn’t give a sign for him to swing away, that Torii just made a mistake. I thought that it was good for Torii to explain it to him, so I took him over.”

“You see those types of things and you know it’s being taken care of internally,” said Red Sox pitching coach Al Nipper about the Hunter incident. “You say, Hey, it’s an honest mistake, it wasn’t something intentional, where the guy’s trying to show you up. We all make mistakes in this game.”

Fernandez’s mistake was considerably more profound, but his reaction was appropriate.

“I feel I don’t deserve to be here, because this isn’t high school no more,” he said after the game. “This is a professional game, and we should be professional players. I think that never should happen. I’m embarrassed, and hopefully that will never happen again.”

Wednesday was the final start of Fernandez’s season, with his team enforcing an innings limit on his young arm. The guy will probably go on to win Rookie of the Year, but, starting with his confrontation with McCann, he’s already begun to display the maturity of a veteran.